Magic vocabulary

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

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I’m not going to answer this month’s optional question. Instead, I’m going to write about my preferred genre. I’m a speculative fiction writer, so all my stories are either science fiction or fantasy. In most fantasy stories – mine or written by other writers – magic is always close to the surface. Something is always happening because of magic.  

Admittedly, magic isn’t necessary confined to fantasy fiction. It exists in our everyday lives as well, and in our mundane vocabulary, magic is always a good word. Consider these well-known idioms: magic moment, magic touch, magic show, work your magic, and the most popular – magic word.

But in a fantasy land, magic has a different connotation. In fantasy stories, magic is a force only magicians can wield. Have you ever wondered what those idioms might mean to a magician from a fantasy novel? I have and I asked a magician, Eriale, the heroine of my novel Almost Adept (now out of print). Below are her definitions of the idioms that include the word magic.  

Magic word – that is a metaphor. There are no magical words except ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, and there is no real magic involved, just politeness.

Magic touch – this is usually reserved for small magic. When I need to heat the water for my bath, I touch the water and infuse it with energy through the touch. The water warms up. When I need to coat a wood splinter with an illusion, to make it look like something else, I touch it, apply my magic through the touch, and voila, it looks like a feather or a knife or a spoon. But such a spoon couldn’t be used for eating, of course, or the knife for cutting. Only the appearance changes.

Magic show – a show created by using magic. For example, fireworks displays in the sky during Midwinter celebrations or visual storytelling on birthdays. My father is excellent with visual storytelling. He uses distinct illusion spells for every character involved in a story. Children love his shows. When I was a child, my favorite illusionary character was a cricket spy, a very tricky little lad. I haven’t mastered this kind of magic yet. I can do fireworks displays, of course, but visual storytelling is a very delicate and precise application of magic. It requires lots of patience and practice.   

Work your magic – means exactly that. When a client needs something done with magic, he would hire a magician and say: “Work your magic.” It could be applied to sending messages, or checking food for poison, or screening patrons in a gaming house, or changing the weather.  

Magic price – is what a magician pays for working magic. Magic is energy generated by a magician’s body. Anything that can be done without magic can be done with magic, and the magician applying it pays the price. For example, if you want to carry a cargo to the other side of the country, you can do it using a horse and a wagon. And lots of time. Or you can employ a mage to transport your cargo. The horse would spend energy pulling the wagon. It would need to eat and sleep to replenish its strength. So would a drover. A mage is no different. He compacts the time and space needed for transportation, and he uses the same amount of energy for the same job, but he pulls this energy out of himself. Of course, mages are always hungry and tired after working magic. If they are not careful and overextend their magic, they could faint or even die. Sometimes, when there is no choice and many lives are at stake, a magician might work too much magic and burn his own magic; cripple himself to save others. It doesn’t happen often, but I read about a few such cases. Those magicians were heroes. They sacrificed themselves for the good of all.

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Below is a snippet of a dialog on the subject Eriale has with another character from the novel, Kealan.

“What if a mage wants to use more magic than his body generates?” Kealan asked.

“He can’t.” Eriale’s expression clouded. “Unless he resorts to blood magic. Then he can, if he extracts the energy from the pain and death of others. It’s easy magic, but…it’s dirty. Blood magic corrupts a mage’s soul.” She shivered. “It makes me want to puke, like poison.” She hugged her knees and stared into the distance.     

“Sorry I asked.” Kealan didn’t like her looking so forlorn. He thought of a distraction. “What if something can’t be done without magic? Like turning a man into an animal? Is it possible with magic?”

“Why?” Eriale snickered. “Do you want to turn someone into a frog?”

“No. I heard a rumor that some crazy mage at the royal court turned a duke into a goat. I thought it was a hoax. They were just pulling my leg, right?”

“Ah.” She kept silent for so long, he wasn’t sure she would answer at all. At last, she stirred. “You can transform one living being into another, but it’s a very complicated spell and a brutal one,” she said quietly. “It takes lots of power and lots of knowledge. You have to learn every detail of the anatomy of your original creature and the target creature. Otherwise, you’ll create a monster. And the overall masses of both creatures should be the same. You can’t turn a man into a tiny frog. Where would the extra mass go? Unless you want a frog the size of a man.”

Kealan grunted. His imagination leaped into overdrive, visualizing a possible result of such a transformation. “A frog the size of a man. Should be charming.”

She giggled. “There’s another solution. I could use a transportation spell. You know, find a frog in a nearby pond, transport the man there and the frog here. It’s a kind of a switcheroo. Done properly, it only takes a moment. For a bystander, it would look like a transformation, but it’s a trick, really.”

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What about other genres? Do you know other genre-specific words that have different meaning in the genre books than on our mundane lives?

 

 

Posted in Almost Adept, Fantasy, Insecure Writer's Support Group, Magic, Olga Godim, Writing | Tagged , , , | 20 Comments

WEP Apr 2022 – A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall

Here is my entry for the WEP Apr 2022 challenge – A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall. It is another story about Altenay, the Finder, the heroine of my 2022 WEP flash fiction. Altenay is a magician: her magic allows her to Find what is lost. The story is a bit longer than 1000 words. Sorry.

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“A hard rain is gonna fall,” the elderly zookeeper mumbled. “Me bones ache.”

Altenay glanced at the heavy gray sky. It had been drizzling for the past three days, on and off. Not a good time to search for anything out in the open, but she didn’t have a choice. She was a Finder. She found things. And this time, it was a Council-paid job.

She eyed the empty cage in front of her with disfavor. No point in asking how the m’riffin had escaped: the cage door gaped open, its lock broken.   

“Dogs wouldn’t pick up his scent in all this rain,” the grumpy zookeeper informed her. “You need to find him quickly, or he would get a cough. Poor little Mory.”

“I don’t hunt by scent like dogs,” Altenay said sharply. She huddled in her cloak, but the cold moisture seeped inside, making her shiver.

“They said you need something of his.” The zookeeper shuffled back to his office. “Here are a couple of wing feathers from his last molt. Would they do? Poor Mory.”

Altenay took the feathers. Brownish with golden highlights, they were longer than her palm.

Poor little Mory indeed, she thought morosely. An m’riffin was almost as tall as she was, with two powerful chicken-like legs, a body and tail of a cat, vestigial wings, and a head of a monkey on a long sinuous neck. It was a magically created monstrosity with long rabbit ears, an amalgam of several species that should never coexist in one body. It couldn’t fly, but it could run like the wind.

Of course, m’riffins were rare and expensive, and someone had stolen this one last night. Why? Who would want such a pet? What if the thief was dangerous? Would he fight her? What if the m’riffin bit her?

“How do I trap it?” Altenay asked. “Does it bite? What does it eat?”

“Meat,” the zookeeper said. “Fish. Ham. He likes smoked octopus. Poor Mory.”

Altenay really didn’t want this large carnivore wandering the streets. Smoked octopus, right!

“These guys will go with you.” The zookeeper nodded at the two guards with a small donkey wagon waiting outside his office.

“Thank you.” Altenay climbed into the wagon.

“Where to?” one of the guards asked.

She fingered the feathers and unfurled her Finder magic. It pointed straight south. Hm. South of the city lay the sprawling river delta. Then the swamps and the mountains. And behind the mountains, the Sultanate.

“Let’s go to the river port,” she told the guards. “Maybe someone wants to smuggle the creature up the river.”

The guard flipped the reins, and they started rolling.

“Do you know why there is such a rush with this job?” Altenay asked.

The younger guard looked at her over his shoulder. “The Council wants to send it to the Sultan as a gift,” he said with a smirk. “For his zoo, I suppose.”

“Oh, right,” she remembered. Everyone at the market had been talking about it. The ship with the delegation to the Sultanate was scheduled to depart in two days.

Altenay rubbed her arms and watched in dismay as the sky opened up. The rain pounded the wagon’s canvas roof and danced in the puddles between the cobblestones. At least she was under a roof. The guards on their bench were drenched already.

At the port, she could do nothing but swear. Repeatedly. Her magic kept pulling south, across the river, into the swamps. She hoisted a bag of ham bits over her shoulder and jumped down from the wagon.

“Guys. My magic still points south. I guess I’ll have to go alone from here. A boat across the river and then on foot. Oh, I hate this job.”

By now, the rain fell in sheets. She tried to wipe the water from her face with her wet sleeve and giggled at the futility of the gesture.

“Sorry, Finder. There are no roads for the wagon down south.” The older guard shrugged apologetically.

“I know. Bye.” She turned away.

“Wait.” The younger guard offered her his pike. “You might need it … as a staff, maybe, if not a weapon. It’s sturdy. You’re all alone.” His wet cheeks pinked.

“Thank you.” Smiling, Altenay accepted his offering.

The older guard snorted and shook his head but didn’t say anything.

Altenay headed to the port. Finding a boat to ferry her across the river wasn’t hard, but after that she was on her own. Nobody lived in the swamps but loonies and criminals. And all sorts of predatory animals. Fortunately, most of them were nocturnal, and it was still early in the day, not even noon yet, but the sky was so dark and leaden, it could be evening. She couldn’t tell the difference. Maybe the swamp denizens couldn’t either? Not a comforting thought.

Resolutely, she started walking. The swamps were not all mire. Trees and shrubbery and tall reeds grew in profusion, and walking paths zigzagged among the waterways. It was tricky to follow her magic here, but overall, she made progress in the right direction. The muddy path squelched and slurped under her boots.

She didn’t realize at once when she arrived. Nothing looked different, but her magic stopped pulling and just hazed disconsolately under the weeping sky. Then a thicket of reeds in front of her resolved into a crude hut. Beside it, the m’riffin was feeding from a big bucket suspended off a tree branch. The beast’s motley brownish coloration – wings, pelt, and all – made it almost invisible in the swamp.

A boy of around seven or eight darted out of the hut and glared at her. Altenay glared back. How had these people transported the creature here?

“You can’t take Mory,” the boy said fiercely. He was clutching a wooden club almost as big as he was.

“Your grandpa is the zookeeper, isn’t he?” Altenay guessed. She should’ve known. Who else would’ve fed an animal smoked octopus? Most people couldn’t afford the delicacy. Only someone who loved the m’riffin would give it such a treat.

“He raised Mory from a chick. And they are going to send him away.”

“Look. If I go back and tell the Council who stole Mory, the guards are gong to arrest your grandpa and put him in prison. What’ll happen to you then?”

The boy’s eyes grew round, and his lips started trembling.

“How did you bring it here?”

“In a boat,” he said in a small shaky voice.

“Then we are going to take Mory back the same way. And we are not going to tell anyone that it was your grandpa who stole it. If nobody knows, nobody will arrest him.”

The boy stared at her for a while and then nodded mutely.

“Get the boat,” Altenay said. “I’ll do all the talking. You keep mum.”    

When they got back to the port, the rain lightened up. Altenay talked to the city guards. She said she found the creature roaming the swamps. The boy who lived there offered to help with his boat, but she had to pay him.

The guards accepted her explanation, and so did the Council. The ship with the delegation to the Sultan, including the m’riffin, departed on schedule. Nobody arrested the old zookeeper. She saw him later, ambling around the zoo, as grumpy as ever.      

Tagline: Rain or shine, the Finder always finds her m’riffin.           

Posted in Fantasy, Olga Godim, WEP, Writing Challenge | Tagged , , , | 19 Comments

A Girl from Ukraine

I saw a beautiful image on Pixabay by a talented artist Natalia Lavrinenko from Kiev, Ukraine.

It was a simple sketch of a portrait. I decided to play with it to express my feelings. Here is what I came up with:

Posted in art, Olga Godim | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Do you speak French?

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

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I will forgo this month’s question as I have never dealt with audio books. I want to talk about a different issue that has me puzzled, more as a reader than as a writer. Some old-time authors I admire, among them Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer, Dorothy Sayers, and several others, sometimes include French sentences in their books, usually in dialogs, without a translation in the footnotes. Why is there no translation? Are all their readers supposed to know French?

Maybe in the past, everyone with education could speak French. I’m not sure, but I doubt it was true even then. I do know for sure it isn’t true now. I don’t speak French. Neither do many of my friends and neighbors.

When I encounter such foreign-language phrases in books, I generally guess what was being said, but it irritates me. Why did the writers do it at all? Didn’t they want their readers to know exactly what they write? Did they want to baffle their readers? And why, for Pete’s sake, don’t the modern editors supply the translation, when a story is reprinted a hundred years later? I’m certain that every modern editor in every publishing house knows that not everybody speaks French. So where are my translations?   

Do you have anything to say on this issue? Do you have answers to any of my questions? Are you ever tempted to include French in your own books? Or any other language without translation? Tell me in the comments.

 

 

Posted in Insecure Writer's Support Group, Olga Godim, Reading | Tagged , | 26 Comments

Deleting scenes is hard

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

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MARCH QUESTION: Have you ever been conflicted about writing a story or adding a scene to a story? How did you decide to write it or not?

MY ANSWER: Frankly, I usually have the opposite problem. I tend to write long, often longer than the prescribed word count, so my challenge is not what to add but what to delete without compromising the story, while staying inside the allowed word count. Deleting scenes and even chapters during revisions is a regular writers’ task. Sometimes, it is just common sense. Other times, it is painful. You like the scene so much, you invested your heart in it, the participants came out alive, the descriptions are throbbing with emotions, BUT… If it is not relevant for the overall story, if the story could live without it, you should cut it out.

What I do if I like the deleted scenes too much: I collect them. Some of them make wonderful short stories later on.  

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This post wasn’t easy for me to write. As you could see above, I didn’t really have an answer to this month’s question, I didn’t have any other ideas, and I didn’t want to skip the post either. Since I joined IWSG in 2014, I never skipped the post day. I’m not about to start. So I made the decision: whenever I have trouble writing an IWSG post, I will post one of my pre-made book covers. It is about books. And it definitely covers my insecurity as a book cover creator. So far, I only created two book covers for real people and real stories. Maybe if I advertised more… So here is this month’s cover. Of course, it is fantasy.

 

 

Posted in book cover, Fantasy, Insecure Writer's Support Group, Olga Godim | Tagged , , , | 28 Comments

WEP Feb 2022 – All You Need is Love

This year, all the WEP challenges will be about music. All but one incorporate popular songs of the 20th century. Only one challenge is dedicated to classical music. Unfortunately, while I enjoy classical music, I never liked popular music. I’ve never heard any of the songs or singers involved in this year’s challenges. Even when I tried to listen to them now, they don’t evoke any emotions in me. So instead of following the tunes and verses that leave me cold (except Moonlight Sonata), I’ll write my flash stories based on the words of the titles, which inspire me.

As usual, I’m going with a series of interconnected stories about one protagonist. She is Altenay, a Finder, living in a fantasy city in an imaginary, vaguely medieval land: horses, swords, magic, the usual. Here is my entry into the WEP Feb 2022 challenge All You Need Is Love.   

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“I wanted a baby,” Lady Malsy whispered. “I wanted someone to love. All I wanted was love.”

Altenay nodded. “Of course, Milady.” She had made it a policy never to contradict her clients, lest they became non-clients. But what had the woman’s maternal yearning had to do with Altenay, the Finder?  

“My husband wasn’t a kind man,” the lady continued.  

Altenay had heard that about the late General Malsy. Nobody mourned him. Obviously not his new widow.

“It wasn’t his baby. He’d never have forgiven me if he knew. He would’ve killed me and the baby. Luckily, he was away on campaign. He never learned.”

“Of course,” Altenay repeated. “What do you want me to Find for you, Milady?”

“I want you to find my baby.”

Altenay stared. “Uhm,” she said faintly.

“I had to give it up, so my husband wouldn’t find out. The midwife took it away. It was seven years ago. But as soon as the general died, I came to you. I want to find my baby. I want to adopt it officially.”

“Seven years,” Altenay squeaked. She glanced up from her visitor to the man who had come with her. He stayed at the door. His face was impassive, but his eyes blazed with anger. Lady Malsy had introduced him as her cousin, and he obviously didn’t want any baby found. Probably a large inheritance was at stake. Altenay returned her attention to the lady, who was still talking.

“I never saw it. Don’t even know if it was a girl or a boy. But I love it already.” Tears glistened in the woman’s eyes. “Find it for me, Finder. They said you never fail.”

Altenay swallowed. “Do you have anything that belonged to your baby?” Even as she asked the question, she knew the answer. Of course, not. The lady had never even seen the baby.

“No,” Lady Malsy said.

Altenay spared another glance at the cousin. His fury seemed to subside, replaced by quick mental calculations.

“What about the midwife?” Altenay asked. “Do you have anything that belonged to her? Do you know her name?”

The man at the door perked up. Would he do something nasty to the midwife? Or just pay her off to stay quiet?

“I don’t remember her name,” Lady Malsy said. “But I have this. It was hers. I kept it.” She put a cheap silver bracelet on Altenay’s desk. “She removed it before the birth and forgot it when she took the baby away. Would it help?”

Altenay picked up the bracelet and let her Finder magic flow. The pull was strong and unmistakable, arrowing north. Probably not far out of the city. Surreptitiously, she checked the cousin at the door again. He looked like a hunting dog on a scent. Ready to pounce. She needed to do her search out of his watchful eyes.

“I don’t know, Milady,” Altenay said. “My magic is small and erratic.” That was a shamefaced lie. Her magic wasn’t erratic. It was small, yes, but simple and straightforward. It tugged, and Altenay followed. So far, she had always found her quarry at the end of her magical line, but she always cautioned her clients, so they wouldn’t expect too much. Besides, the cousin might be a problem.

“I’ll try,” she said. “But I’ll have to finish a couple other jobs first. I can start on your search in a few days.” That was another prevarication. She didn’t have any other jobs at the moment, but hopefully the notion would keep the greedy cousin off her back for a time. She really wanted to find the kid.

Altenay watched through her window, as the lady’s carriage vanished around the corner. The cousin would need some time to organize anything. Meanwhile, she would move. As soon as the rattle of the carriage wheels on the cobblestones died away, she clamped a yellow tubeteika, fringed with tiny coins, on her head and slipped out of the house. She hurried to the northern gates of the city. To her relief, nobody followed her.

At the gates, she checked the midwife’s bracelet again. Her magic still pointed north. She hired a donkey cart at the livery just beyond the gate and followed the call of magic. It zoomed straight to the door of a modest cottage in a small town a couple hours from the city. Easy.

Convincing the midwife to disclose the fate of the child was trickier.   

“General Malsy died?” the midwife asked in surprise. “When? She was afraid of him.”

“The funeral was yesterday,” Altenay sad. “That’s why Lady Malsy came to me. Because her husband died.”

The midwife pursed her lips but eventually relented. “His name is Ratmir,” she said. “A good, healthy lad. I gave him to the local draper’s family. They couldn’t have children.”

She even took Altenay to the draper. “This is a Finder,” she said. “Lady Malsy hired her.”

“No!” the draper’s wife exclaimed. “No. Ratmir is my son. We won’t give him up!”

Her husband, a thin stopped man, nodded his agreement.

Altenay looked through the window at the dusty yard outside. A boy with the dark curly hair played with a dog there.

“He might have more chances in life with a rich mother,” she said. “And she might pay you too. She doesn’t have to cut you off either. The boy loves you.”   

The draper and his wife exchanged speaking glances. Everyone in the room knew that none of them could really make any decisions. It was Lady Malsy’s money. And the boy was her son.

“I’ll let the lady know where you live,” Altenay said at last.

It was already dark when she returned home. The next morning, she trudged up the hill to see Lady Malsy. To her relief, the cousin wasn’t in the room.

“You need something else?” the lady asked anxiously. The house was swathed in the mourning colors, but its mistress didn’t seem grieving.   

“No, Milady.” Altenay told her about her yesterday’s trip.

“Ratmir,” the lady breathed. Her eyes shined. “You said a few days. Oh, thank you!” She thrust a heavy purse into Altenay’s hands. “Thank you, Finder. Thank you.”

“Milady,” Altenay said. “It is not my business, but you’re rich. You probably have other heirs for your money. They might resent Ratmir’s sudden appearance. Maybe … you should do something … to keep him safe.”

Lady Malsy’s expression turned frosty. Then it switched to thoughtful. “Yes,” she said after a lengthy pause. “Yes, perhaps I should.”

Altenay curtsied and fled. Later on, she heard in the market that Lady Malsy dotted on her long-lost son. She also heard that the lady’s cousin suffered a fatal accident. People always gossiped about the rich.   

Tagline: The mother’s love can’t be denied.

Posted in Fantasy, Olga Godim, WEP | Tagged , , , | 22 Comments

Bats in the libraries

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

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FEBRUARY QUESTION: Is there someone who supported or influenced you that perhaps isn’t around anymore? Anyone you miss?

MY ANSWER: I could talk about several people like that, but the most important one was my father. He died years ago. I didn’t write then, so he never knew. But I chose his first name, Godim, as my fiction pen name. Every time I write a story and put down my byline – Olga Godim – I remember him. This way he is always with me, even though he had never read any of my stories.

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I want to talk about something different this month. It is not about me as a writer, but it is about books. And bats. In fact, it is about libraries. I learned this fascinating tidbit a couple weeks ago, and I’m sure some of you are not aware of it.

In common parlance, bats are often associated with witches and dark magic, especially for speculative fiction writers like myself. But two historical libraries in Portugal – the only ones in the whole world – use bats as bug repellents, to protect their priceless manuscripts.

 One is the Biblioteca Joanina of the University of Coimbra. Another one is the Palace Library at the Palace of Mafra near Lisbon.   

Both are gorgeous old libraries in the ornate Baroque style. Amazing décor, marvelous gilded carvings, the usual. Since the 1700s, soon after the libraries opened, the colonies of bats have been roosting inside those buildings, behind the bookshelves. Nobody actually recorded the exact dates when the bats first took residence among the stacks. The little flyers sleep in the daytime when the libraries are in use. At night, when all the visitors are gone, the bats fly out to hunt through the libraries’ corridors and balconies, devouring insects and thus preserving the magnificent ancient volumes in the libraries’ collections. Some of those volumes date back to the 15th century or before.

Biblioteca Joanina – photo from wikipedia

The staff are very understanding of their manuscript-protecting creatures. There are always open windows in the buildings, so the bats could fly outside, drink water, and feed in the gardens nearby, before returning home. Furthermore, every evening, before the employees leave for the night, they cover all the original 18th century furniture with leather sheets, just as it has been done for hundreds of years, to capture the bat guano. Every morning, before the libraries open their doors, the staff remove the furniture covers and scrub the floors, so they could welcome in the library patrons.

Palace Library of Mafra – photo from wikipedia

So simple and so ingenious. I’m in awe. Clever Portuguese. Some modern libraries spend thousands of dollars on book preservation, and it could be done much cheaper by common bats. Perhaps we should copy a page from their ‘book.’  

 

 

Posted in Insecure Writer's Support Group, Olga Godim | Tagged , , , , | 25 Comments

Queen as a character

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. And I’m one of the hosts this month, together with Erika Beebe, Sandra Cox, Sarah Foster, and Chemist Ken. Hooray!

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I’ll forgo this month optional question for a question (or five) of my own. I recently read a fascinating novel, a cozy murder mystery The Windsor Knot by S.J. Bennett. I enjoyed it, but it also inspired a few of those questions I want to ask.

You see, one of the novel’s protagonists is Queen Elizabeth – the current ruler of Britain and one of the sleuths of the story. There are also other characters representing the living people in the queen’s entourage, all with their real names. Plus, of course, some fictional characters. I wonder if the author had to ask permission to use the real persons’ names and the queen’s personality in her book. And what does it say about the British law that the permission was (obviously) granted? Maybe Bennett didn’t even have to ask. Maybe any writer could use the British royals as characters in their fictional tales. I know there are several books like that. How much difference is there between the real Queen Elizabeth and her fictional counterpart?

And the inevitable second series of questions arises. I’m a Canadian. What if I wanted to create a fictional version of our political leader, the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau? Would I have to ask permission? Would it be granted? Or is it permissible without asking?

Could an American writer use their current president as a fictional character? How about a Hollywood star or a television host? Is any public persona a fair game for fiction writers? Does anyone know the answers to my questions? If not, would you care to speculate?

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Insecure Writer's Support Group, Olga Godim, Writing | Tagged , , | 43 Comments

WEP Dec 2021 – Narcissus

Finally, the last WEP post of the year, Dec 2021 challenge, Narcissus. This entry tells another story about a young Space Fleet Academy cadet, Neville. He serves on the spaceship Mariposa as the captain’s liaison with the passengers, refugees from a destroyed colony planet. Read about Neville’s previous adventures here:

Feb 2021 – The Kiss

Apr 2021 – Freedom Morning

Jun 2021 – Great Wave

Aug 2021 – Freedom of Speech

Oct 2021 – Scream

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“Men want to be beautiful, too,” the old man told Neville in a quivering baritone. “And don’t smirk at me, young man. You do, deep inside your heart. Everyone does. That’s what I did with my life. I made men beautiful. I owned a salon for men only. Haircuts. Massages. Nails. You name it—I offered it. In the end, I owned 15 salons in four cities, all called Narcissus. That’s who I was. The Narcissus. And now…” He sighed and looked around at the passenger hold, where he shared his berth with a thousand other refugees.

The Mariposa’s trips to Simel were not long, eight to ten days only, depending on the traffic through the warp gates, but at the end of this journey, nothing waited for this old man. Neville felt sorry for him. Younger refugees would find new jobs, make new lives for themselves, but this old geezer had nothing to look forward to. Neville opened his mouth to deliver some bracing platitudes when the Narcissus’s next words floored him.

“They should’ve left me on the planet,” the oldster said. “My daughter died there, and my granddaughters. One of them was pregnant. With my great-grandchild. The shuttles couldn’t reach any of them in time, before it all exploded. But they saved me. Why? I’m no use to anyone anymore. I can’t even give you a haircut. My hands shake. Stupid old hands.” He stared into the distance only he could see. A slight tremor shook his wrinkled hands.

Neville desperately wanted to cheer up the old man, but how does one counter such despair? He scrambled his brain for anything positive. “Do you want to walk with me through the ship?” he asked finally. “Have you ever seen such a ship as Mariposa? It’s a military freighter, three kilometers long. It never landed on any planet, was built in space.”

“Heh?” The old Narcissus perked up. “Yes. Thank you, dear boy. Three kilometers? I don’t think I could walk that far.”

“We won’t go all the way,” Neville promised with a smile. “And we’ll stop for rest.” He offered his arm to the old man. “Lean on me, sir.”

“Wonderful.” Narcissus’s answering smile creased the old face. “What is your name again? I’m Peter.”

“Neville,” Neville said.

They walked slowly, and Neville explained each section and its functions to Peter. Twice, the old man rested: once in the mess hall, the next time perching on a huge loader’s arm in the D section. But he refused to return to his hold.

“This is a fascinating excursion, Neville, boy.” The old eyes sparkled. “I haven’t had such fun in ages.”

They were nearing the warp drive housing when the ship chimed a warning. Then the captain’s command, cold and sharp, cut through the intercom. “Officers to the bridge. Passengers, go to your holds and stay there.”   

Neville’s head snapped up.

“Trouble?” Peter asked.

“I don’t know.” Neville brought his wrist-comm to his lips and keyed the captain’s station. “Captain? Should I report to the bridge or stay with the passengers?” He was the passengers’ liaison after all. He was supposed to be available to them at all times.

“A moment, cadet.” She continued her conversation with someone else, but she didn’t turn off the audio, and the raised voices came through Neville’s comm-link.

“No, Tergio,” she said. “It’s a suicide mission. We might muddle through as is.”

“No, we won’t,” Tergio said. “The volanite leak means the shell’s cracked. When the leak reaches the critical volume, the engine will blow. You know that. I must go in and patch the shell. I should’ve checked before. I’m the chief engineer. It was my duty.”

“What is volanite?” Peter mouthed to Neville.

“Warp drive fuel. It powers starships,” Neville replied absently, his mind on the conversation he was overhearing.

The captain again: “We are four days out from the nearest station with a decent medical facility. Simel is even farther away. We can’t treat volanite burns onboard. You’ll die.”

“I know,” Tergio said. “But there is no one else. My assistant is twice younger than I am and has a toddler daughter. I can’t order her to do it.”

“Captain,” Peter spoke directly into Neville’s wrist-comm. “Can I do it?” His voice wobbled more than usual.

Startled, Neville glared at the old man.

“Who is that, cadet?” his comm demanded.

“One of the passengers, Captain. An old man. I was giving him a tour of the ship.”

“I’m almost a hundred,” Peter murmured into the comm. “I’ll die soon anyway. No reason to go to Simel for that. I can just as well die here. At least my death would mean something.”

“Are you an engineer?” the captain demanded.

“No. I was a barber. But I’m sure your engineer could talk me through whatever needs to be done. Couldn’t you, sir? In simple layman words?”

“No, Peter,” Neville said in dismay.

“I want to,” said Peter. “My family all died back home. Let me do it.”

“This is wrong,” Tergio said after a long pause.

“Yes, you can do it,” the captain said at the same time. “Thank you. Neville, bring him to the bridge. Tergio, prepare your equipment.”

Peter’s grin was incandescent. “This is the perfect last job for Narcissus,” he said happily, as Neville towed him to the bridge. “Don’t be so gloomy, my boy. Making life a better place was what I did all my life. I might as well die doing it.”

An hour later, Peter entered the warp engine housing under Tergio’s radio supervision and patched the drive shell to stop the leak. It might have taken a stronger and better trained man less than an hour. It took Peter, with his tremorous hands, thrice that long. He didn’t die from volanite burns after all. He collapsed right there, inside the drive compartment, as his old heart finally gave out after his job was completed.

Just after Tergio shouted in triumph: “Well done, old man!”   

The captain gave a moving eulogy at Peter’s wake the next day, her words transmitted through the intercom all over the ship. Afterwards, impromptu speeches started.  

“I had my haircuts at Narcissus all the time,” said one man. “They knew how to do man’s hair better than anyone else. Had I known we traveled with such a celebrity, the owner of Narcissus, I would’ve told the old guy.”

“Yeah.” Another man stood up. “They did my haircut for my wedding. The best barbers ever, that’s for sure. Who would’ve known a barber could be a hero.”

Neville didn’t talk, but he knew. The captain had already submitted a report. The next new Fleet ship coming out of the military docks would have an unexpected name – Narcissus.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tagline: Even a barber could be a hero

Posted in science fiction, Short Story, WEP | Tagged , , , , | 21 Comments

Good and bad of writing

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

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DECEMBER QUESTION: In your writing, what stresses you the most? What delights you?

MY ANSWER: What delights me? It is a no brainer: a story. I enjoy making up my own stories, coming up with the characters and their adventures. It’s not always easy, but it is always rewarding. When the story unfolds, it sucks me in, makes me forget all my real-life troubles. It is escapism at its best, better even than reading.

What stresses me? The lack of moral support and encouragement. For all my writing life, the only encouragement I’ve ever got for my writing was from my online friends. Nobody in my real life praises my writing or even reads it. I’m not complaining about my family – far from it. I have a great family, BUT… I and my family and my closest friends are all immigrants from Russia. Nobody among my family and friends knows English enough to enjoy reading it, including my writing (I write exclusively in English). Mostly, they read Russian books.

Furthermore, raised and steeped in the Russian culture, they don’t read light genre fiction, which is what I write. Magic with dragons? Puh! My mom never in her life read anything so frivolous. She enjoys serious mainstream novels and literary fiction. So does my sister. The sci-fi adventure flicks I write, with nothing even remotely resembling true life, is not for them.

My children, on the other hand, know English. They went to school here, in Canada. BUT… My daughter doesn’t read fiction. She is into non-fiction and not interested in my genre stories. My son – the only one of my relatives – did read a few of my stories and even complimented me. He is a good son and a good man, but we have different tastes in reading. I’m reluctant to push my writing on him too often – don’t want to over-exploit his affection for me – and he never asks to read anything of mine without a prompt. So, not much moral support there as well.

Just as I said, the only consistent moral support and encouragement for my writing comes from my online friends: here at IWSG and at WEP.

BTW: we have the last WEP blog hop of 2021 coming up on the theme Narcissus, based on the famous painting by Caravaggio. I’m going to post my story in a few days. Come read it. Give me your moral support. It’ll make me happy. A hint: it will be a sci-fi flash story, an adventure in space.

What about you? What stresses and delights you in your writing?

 

 

 

 

Posted in Insecure Writer's Support Group, Olga Godim, Writing | Tagged , , | 24 Comments